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The Carlyle Group, one of the world’s largest private equity funds, may soon acquire the $2 billion government contracting business of consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the biggest suppliers of technology and personnel to the U.S. government’s spy agencies. Carlyle manages more than $75 billion in assets and has bought and sold a long string of military contractors since the early 1990s. But in recent years it has significantly reduced its investments in that industry. If it goes ahead with the widely reported plan to buy Booz Allen, it will re-emerge as the owner of one of America’s largest private intelligence armies.
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Since the late-1990s, Booz Allen has forged a particularly close relationship with the NSA, the spy agency that monitors global telephone, e-mail and Internet traffic for the U.S. military and political leaders, which hired Booz Allen as its chief outside consultant on Project Groundbreaker. This $4 billion project outsourced the NSA’s internal communications and networking systems to a consortium led by Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) and the IT subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.
Today, among the many services Booz Allen provides to intelligence agencies, according to its Website, are war-gaming – simulated drills in which military and intelligence officials test their response to potential threats like terrorist attacks – as well as data-mining and analysis of imagery and intelligence picked up by U.S. spy satellites, the design of cryptographic, or code-breaking, systems (an NSA specialty) and “outsourcing/privatization strategy and planning.” The company’s 2007 annual report spells out several other areas of expertise, including “all source analysis,” an intelligence specialty managed by the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that draws on public sources of information, such as foreign newspapers and textbooks, to add texture to data gathered by spies and electronic surveillance.
It stated that the Booz Allen team “employs more than 10,000 TS/SCI cleared personnel.” TS/SCI stands for top secret-sensitive compartmented intelligence, one of the highest possible security ratings, which would make Booz Allen one of the largest employers of cleared personnel in the United States.
In January 2008, after rumors of a Carlyle takeover of Booz Allen surfaced in the press, SEIU issued a blistering press release denouncing the potential deal. The union’s criticism of the proposed acquisition didn’t focus on Booz Allen’s role in intelligence outsourcing but on Carlyle’s ties with the Mubadala Development fund of the Government of Abu Dhabi. In 2007, that fund paid $1.35 billion to buy a 7.5 percent ownership stake in Carlyle’s general partnership.